Hang Ten: seniors learn life lessons from surfing the globe

This year’s Alex Cohn Explore Grant recipients — John Kalnins ’14 and Ben Hicks ’14 — spent their summer traveling and surfing. From the Canary Islands to The Outer Banks to California and then back to New England, the best friends had an epic two months.

“It was the best summer of my life,” John said.

“We were looking for adventure,” Ben added. “And that’s what we got out of this.”

But it wasn’t all paddling into the sunset. John and Ben worked hard to document their journey through photos and film — interviewing local surfers and residents in each location. Their movie, Swell Safari, premieres at Beaver Thursday, November 7, and an exhibit of their photos is currently on display in the Nancy Lincoln Gallery

This project took shape last December, when John and Ben said they spent 100 hours over Christmas break writing their proposal for the Cohn Grant. They researched the best places to visit, calculated exactly how much everything would cost, and outlined a general idea for the project.

However, at the end of the day, they believe it’s their deep passion for the sport that got them the grant.

“A lot of kids just wanted to do some sort business but we wanted more and after learning a lot more about Alex, he was a kid who liked going on adventures and who was really passionate,” John said.  “I could see us being friends with Alex.”

While the two have been surfing since Middle School, documentary filmmaking was a new endeavor for them. At first, the idea and process of approaching complete strangers and asking them for an interview was daunting and terrifying. But after a while, it became second nature.

“People were willing to help and we formed a lot of new friendships,” Ben said. “Lots of people just plopped themselves in front of us.”

Both Ben and John said this experience changed them.

“The whole trip culminated into its own lessons,” John said. “This whole experience has changed my life forever.”

The two said they feel more confident, especially when it comes to large projects.

“It gave me the confidence to accomplish big things,” Ben said.

There were several times the two felt overwhelmed — especially when they returned in the fall and realized they had the daunting task of piecing together all their footage and photos.

“We realized sometimes you need to take break from doing fun stuff all the time,” Ben said.

They divided and conquered and are proud of the work they accomplished — especially when Alex’s mom, Carol Kaplan, hugged them and told them she was pleased with all the work they did.

“It’s the best feeling knowing that we did something that made her happy,” John said.

More about the Alex Cohn Explore Grant
Named in memory of Alex Cohn ’07 and made possible by friends and family of the Kaplan and Cohn families, the Alex Cohn Explore Grant is awarded to a rising junior or senior for an experiential, hands-on program or course of study to explore a passion for a particular topic or activity outside of school.

For more information on applying for the grant, to see past projects, and to read more from the Kaplan and Cohn families please visit the website.

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